Gold mine should cough up, say locals
About 200 residents who have been badly affected by the construction of a gold mine in Loei province's Wang Saphung district for more than a decade are calling for the mining company and government agencies to restore the environment and pay compensation to villagers.
"Although the mining company, Tungkum Co, Ltd, discontinued its construction in 2004, the environmental impact has still carried burdens and difficulties to those who live in the affected areas," Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer for the Community Resource Centre Foundation, said during a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand on Tuesday.
Since 2006, the villagers had protested against the mine's operations -- which caused water and soil pollution. They also blocked the company's trucks from the road leading to the mine's entrance.
In 2014, they were attacked and beaten at night by about 200 armed men. Two military men were jailed for committing the assault. Tungkum's licence to operate its business in forested areas expired about five years ago and was recently declared bankrupt in the beginning of this year.
"In the middle of the year, we sued Tungkum at the Loei Provincial Court, asking the company to restore the environment and pay compensation worth more than 200 million baht in total. Since the company went bankrupt, we now need the government to help monitor the case and provide support to the residents," the lawyer added.
The mining business has had an adverse effect on local people's agricultural produce and livelihoods.
"In the past, we could use and rely on soil and water in nearby rivers for agricultural purposes, but nowadays, the soil and water have been contaminated with dangerous chemicals, for example, arsenic, cyanide and other heavy metals," said Pornthip Hongchai, a resident of Wang Saphung district and a representative of the Khon Rak Bank Kerd (People Who Love Their Homeland) group.
"We have to bear the extra cost of buying clean water and food because the community's water and plants are inedible, and it's difficult to grow plants on chemically contaminated soil. Our incomes have sharply dropped," said another local resident, Ranong Kongsaen.
"'The community is facing ongoing reprisals for having stood up for the environment and their rights and livelihoods for years," said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a non-profit organisation based in Southeast Asia.
"The Thai government must make sure that environmental defenders can carry out their legitimate work without fear of abuse or retaliation."